“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool” Richard Feynman, Physicist and Nobel Laureate
As Paul handed over the award for Employee of the Month to his team-mate he jokingly said “sure if we all stay here long enough, I suppose we’ll all get one!” The impact on his co-worker was swift and devastating.
Fast forward a few months and it was one of the many comments quoted by the team-mate in a bullying accusation brought against Paul. When questioned about the comments, Paul seemed genuinely bewildered. Well yes, he had said that, but it was just a joke! And the other comments? Yes, them too!
But as team lead, Paul’s habit of joking had gone too far. His team were tired of the way he didn’t take them seriously, belittled their efforts with stupid quips and demeaned them in front of other with condescending sarcasm. The message was clear – their boss had no respect for them whatsoever. They were all just a joke to him.
Morale was at an all time low and a massive amount of time and headspace went into discussing and picking apart everything he said and how much of an insult was implied.
But the bullying complaint had made the situation much more serious.
Paul was shocked. “Where was everyone’s sense of humour? Why was everything so sombre?” As his comments were read back to him, he began to realise that perhaps they weren’t as funny as he initially thought. With reluctance, he could perhaps see how they could be hurtful especially if repeated over and over, and in front of others. When asked why he made the comments, Paul shook his head. “I honestly don’t know, I’ve always been a bit of the class clown” he admitted.
The discussion with the two parties involved in the accusation evolved and a couple of things emerged.
- The team-mate involved was highly motivated by praise and encouragement. What was most important to her was to know that she was doing a good job and that it was appreciated. Paul’s consistent joking about her work led to an insistent erosion of her self-confidence and she questioned her ability to do a good job. From her perspective, Paul neither encouraged nor appreciated her contribution to the team. She began to dread every day, awaiting every smart comment from Paul and then analysing it in such a way as to erode her confidence even further. Ultimately, her work life became unbearable.
Understanding what each member of your team needs from you, as their leader, is imperative. Each will need something different but you must find out and deliver whatever they need from your leadership.
- Paul had developed a habit over the years of joking off any type of insecurity or feeling of discomfort. He was uncomfortable in personal interactions – having a very off-hand and impersonal style of leadership. Genuinely congratulating his high performing colleague made him feel awkward and self-conscious, thus his quip in handing her the award. As the case unfurled, Paul began to realise the impact of this reaction on other people. He began to realise how often his wife “threw her eyes to heaven” when he made a joke of something serious she was trying to discuss and how many times in a week his boss would gesture to him to leave, when he mocked some report or data finding. People were not taking him seriously.
Understanding that everything you say and do has an impact on other people. Watching and learning what that impact is, helps you to understand if you are helping or hindering yourself and others, in the quality of your performance at work.
How to build Self-Awareness
- Ask for feedback. This is the fastest way of learning how you are seen by others. Often it can be difficult to take, but studies show that leaders who engage in feedback are far more successful than those who do not. We all have blind spots, sometimes we’re in denial, or like Paul we simply don’t know what we’re doing wrong. Accepting feedback is easier when you don’t take it personally. One way to make this easier, is to score yourself on how you handle the feedback. View feedback as a way to become better, not as a stick to beat yourself with!
- Share the feedback. This takes courage, but it helps your colleagues see that you have taken their feedback on board and are trying to implement changes that will benefit you and them. Your colleagues will be much more supportive of your efforts and your sharing generates an environment of growth mindset and continuous improvement.
- Take a break. Mindfulness practice has crept into our lives and seems to be just about everywhere. But whether you practice it or not, self-awareness requires you to be “mindful” of how you are feeling, what you are saying and how others might be feeling. Taking a mindfulness break allows you to tune in to how you are reacting to a particular issue and consider how else you might react, and how others might be reacting. Breathing deeply allows your logical brain time to kick in, slows down your heart rate and racing mind, and gives the body relief from stress hormones.
- Lessons learned. I’m a huge fan of this practice in all aspects of life. Taking the time to consider “what did I learn from this situation, how I felt, how I reacted etc” and “how can I do it differently next time”. Feelings of fear, shame, guilt or anger are signposts that you want to behave differently. Try to figure out the original source of your reaction, thought or emotion.
- Recognise your triggers. Certain things immediately trigger responses that we may later regret, so make sure you know what they are. Be ready, not to react, but to respond.
Research has shown that greater emotional intelligence leads to greater life fulfilment and professional success. To develop greater EQ, the foundation is being aware of one’s own inner landscape. This helps us to be stronger in dealing with others and the greater environment we live and work in. Ultimately, personal growth and development starts here – the ability to observe, question, learn and correct our reactions, thoughts, beliefs and behaviours in such a way as to serve ourselves and others better. “Nothing works, till you do the work”. Robin Sharma